As CBC’s Go Public reported in May, Heidi Roggero, of Coquitlam, B.C., moved to the province with her Canadian husband in 2000 and separated in 2009, but not before they had five children together. All are under the age of 14 and have dual citizenship.
As Roggero had no legal status in Canada, she couldn’t work in this country, but she also couldn’t go back to the U.S. to work unless she abandoned or kidnapped her children.
After hearing her story, lawyer Catherine Sas worked without a fee to help Roggero get a temporary work permit while she applies for permanent residence on humantiarian and compassionate grounds. Sas also convinced her lawyer colleagues at the Canadian Bar Association's B.C. branch to do the same for other foreign spouses desperate for permanent residency and work permits.
“They're able to work, able to support themselves, they're able to get medical benefits, and they're not costing the taxpayer anything, which is a win-win situation,” Sas told CBC News.
Roggero is ecstatic at the turn of events.
“It just changed everything,” she said.
The immigration dilemma is not an isolated case but is faced by dozens more women in Metro Vancouver alone and possibly by thousands across the country, said Metro Vancouver YWCA CEO Janet Austin.
The YWCA first identified the problem a few years ago and has been working with the B.C. government to make changes that would also allow foreign spouses in abusive relationships to apply for income assistance. Those changes come into effect in October.
“Women in this situation are absolutely destitute,” said Austin. “What we're seeing here is a real systemic change that will permanently improve the lives of many women and children.”
With their father behind in child support, Roggero said she and children had been surviving on charity.
Roggero said she has no regrets about making her family's private struggle so public
“Whenever you bring about an eye opening situation to the public, things get better.”